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Not a Smaller, But Different Navy

May 4, 2010

A few quotes in the Gates speech before the Navy League yesterday has some claiming (here and here) the Defense Secretary wants to shrink the Navy. I can prove from within the same speech this is emphatically not true, but instead shows his intent to change the fleet. First, though, here are the quotes in question:

I do not foresee any significant increases in top-line of the shipbuilding budget beyond current assumptions.  At the end of the day, we have to ask whether the nation can really afford a Navy that relies on $3 to 6 billion destroyers, $7 billion submarines, and $11 billion carriers.

But then at the same time he goes on to critique the shrinking number of assets:

We simply cannot afford to perpetuate a status quo that heaps more and more expensive technologies onto fewer and fewer platforms – thereby risking a situation where some of our greatest capital expenditures go toward weapons and ships that could potentially become wasting assets.

Earlier in the speech, the SecDef pointed out our Navy’s overwhelming capability in conventional warfare:

  • The U.S. operates 11 large carriers, all nuclear powered.  In terms of size and striking power, no other country has even one comparable ship.
  • The U.S. Navy has 10 large-deck amphibious ships that can operate as sea bases for helicopters and vertical-takeoff jets.  No other navy has more than three, and all of those navies belong to our allies or friends.  Our Navy can carry twice as many aircraft at sea as all the rest of the world combined.
  • The U.S. has 57 nuclear-powered attack and cruise missile submarines – again, more than the rest of the world combined.
  • Seventy-nine Aegis-equipped combatants carry roughly 8,000 vertical-launch missile cells.  In terms of total missile firepower, the U.S. arguably outmatches the next 20 largest navies.
  • All told, the displacement of the U.S. battle fleet – a proxy for overall fleet capabilities – exceeds, by one recent estimate, at least the next 13 navies combined, of which 11 are our allies or partners.
  • And, at 202,000 strong, the Marine Corps is the largest military force of its kind in the world and exceeds the size of most world armies.

Then went on to show how our enemies are taking advantage of our obsession to build a force for a particular kind of last century warfare, to counter it with newer cheaper alternatives:

Potential adversaries are well-aware of our overwhelming conventional advantage – which is why, despite significant naval modernization programs underway in some countries, no one intends to bankrupt themselves by challenging the us to a shipbuilding competition akin to the Dreadnought race before World War I.
 Instead, potential adversaries are investing in weapons designed to neutralize U.S. advantages – to deny our military freedom of action while potentially threatening America’s primary means of projecting power:  our bases, sea and air assets, and the networks that support them.

He goes on to lists these “neutralizers” such as ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, swarming suicide speedboats, and old-fashioned naval mines. Historically, you may remember reading from the world wars, large warships such as those the USN is exclusively armed with are at risk from light and lethal threats, especially in shallow waters. Again historically they must be escorted with and preceded by small warships in such waters, the age-old but unglamorous flotilla. Here is where the “different” Navy comes:

In particular, the Navy will need numbers, speed, and the ability to operate in shallow water, especially as the nature of war in the 21st century pushes us toward smaller, more diffuse weapons and units that increasingly rely on a series of networks to wage war.

Three key words mentioned: numbers, more, and networks. He is talking of building up the fleet of ships geared toward the new warfare. Here’s more calls for increase in another capability:

Last year’s budget accelerated the buy of the Littoral Combat Ship, which, despite its development problems, is a versatile ship that can be produced in quantity and go places that are either too shallow or too risky for the Navy’s big, blue-water surface combatants.  The new approach to LCS procurement and competition should provide an affordable, scalable, and sustainable path to producing the quantity of ships we need.

No one I know likes the LCS. It is too large and expensive for the type of warfare he is talking about, just not as big or costly as the aircraft carriers, destroyers, and amphibious ships. But did you note the important word “quantity” here? You don’t want cuts when you are talking quantity. And he rightly places the blame not on the budget but on the type of ships the Navy buys:

The Navy’s DDG-1000 is a case in point.  By the time the Navy leadership curtailed the program, the price of each ship had more than doubled and the projected fleet had dwindled from 32 to seven.  The programmed buy now is three.

Gates is not decreasing the shipbuilding budget. It is the rising cost of high end warships that is sinking the Navy:

Just a few years ago, the Congressional Budget Office projected that meeting the Navy’s shipbuilding plan would cost more than $20 billion a year – double the shipbuilding budget of recent years, and a projection that was underfunded by some 30 percent.

So, it is their own fault, for trying to build a fleet meant to fight another type of warfare that is unlikely, a decisive battle with another carrier-based navy that doesn’t exist, then using it like a world-spanning gunboat navy for peacetime policing.

Of course we need a large fleet, and I think one which includes many small vessels, corvettes, patrol craft, HSV catamarans for the amphibious role, motherships, would see our numbers rise to historical proportions, from 400-600 easily under current shipbuilding budgets. The point Mr Gates made in mentioning our conventional capability, is because we are already overwhelmingly strong in this area, we should start considering other areas where we are weak and in which the enemy might take advantage of for their own gains.

So, do we really need a fleet more powerful than 13 other navies, or would fewer battleships to contend with 2 or 3 such peer foes be enough? Consider that the other 10 or 11 navies we are in competition with are likely our close allies! Gates here is without doubt calling for cuts in certain capabilities which we spend way too much of our small budget upon, but in quantity he is calling for increases.

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32 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike Burleson permalink*
    May 5, 2010 11:26 am

    Jed beat me to it but I was just going to say not to underestimate our allies, from whom we could learn alot.

    “We could buy three Mistrals for the price of one LPD-17.”

    I know! And thats 3 more flight decks also. sigh

  2. Jed permalink
    May 5, 2010 10:12 am

    X said: “Europeans only play at amphibious warfare.” – LOL, I dare you to say that to the face of some Royal Marines who were involved in the Um Qasr landings then…..

    Gates is not a real visionary, I think we all get that, but he is asking the right, hard questions. How is the all the amphibious shipping going to help get Marines and their kit over the shore in the face of even non-advanced anti-ship missiles (shore and ship based), diesel subs, maybe Russian / Chinese sourced tac-air (J11 etc), modern deep and shallow water mines etc etc

    You need the carrier battle groups to provide your air cover, the Aegis CCG / DDG’s to provides their sophisticated radar, SAM’s and their remaining Harpoons (oh and 5 inch guns for NGS). You need fully operational MCM and ASW modules on lots of LCS (good luck with that one) etc etc – so you need the full Navy / Marine capability set, and your still not guaranteed success – a lot has changed since Inchon !

    Perhaps the day of the fully fledged ‘kick the door down’ landing against opposition has passed. At least against, peer or near-peer capabilities. LCAC and V22 were supposed to get the Marines ashore from “over the horizon” – but perhaps a smaller USMC with a less broadly scoped mission is the way to go ???

  3. B.Smitty permalink
    May 5, 2010 9:15 am

    Mike said, “I’d say the Johan de Witt was playing a pretty good game in the Gulf recently, and teaching how to better utilize our shrinking number of high end assets.

    de Witt is playing a pretty good game in the Gulf, but the game is not amphibious warfare.

  4. B.Smitty permalink
    May 5, 2010 9:14 am

    x said, “And they are mostly a fraction of the size and with smaller propulsion plants. There is nothing wrong with Mistral (or Ocean) that another 10,000 tons and 5kts on their cruising speed wouldn’t cure. Europeans only play at amphibious warfare. Speaking hypothetically if every European amphib’ hull was in the water ready to go in total we would struggle to land a light division.

    Mistral is only 4k tonnes FLD or so smaller than LPD-17. Juan Carlos is 3k tonnes heavier.

    We could buy three Mistrals for the price of one LPD-17.

  5. Mike Burleson permalink*
    May 5, 2010 7:48 am

    X wrote “Europeans only play at amphibious warfare.”

    I’d say the Johan de Witt was playing a pretty good game in the Gulf recently, and teaching how to better utilize our shrinking number of high end assets. In conjunction with small craft, and not in competition with, as the Big Ship advocates consider it.

  6. May 5, 2010 7:14 am

    Sailing and flying are similar in that the closer to land you get the more dangerous it becomes.

  7. May 5, 2010 7:12 am

    I take a contested landing to mean troops landing on the shore with the enemy in force and shooting.

  8. May 5, 2010 7:09 am

    Smitty said “Other nations’ amphibs are a fraction of the cost of ours (e.g. Mistral, Enforcer/Bay/Rotterdam/de Witt/Galicia, Juan Carlos/Canberra). Maybe we need to accept far less gold plating for more numbers.”

    And they are mostly a fraction of the size and with smaller propulsion plants. There is nothing wrong with Mistral (or Ocean) that another 10,000 tons and 5kts on their cruising speed wouldn’t cure. Europeans only play at amphibious warfare. Speaking hypothetically if every European amphib’ hull was in the water ready to go in total we would struggle to land a light division.

  9. Mike Burleson permalink*
    May 5, 2010 5:05 am

    “I wouldn’t be shocked at a 200 ship fleet in the next 20 years”

    There I agree with you, if we keep building as we are, ever fewer and larger warships, with more capability packed on each subsequent class, which ironically becomes less capable because it has many more missions, except it can only be in a single place at once.

  10. DesScorp permalink
    May 4, 2010 10:21 pm

    I think it’s inevitable that, with the budget cuts that are coming, the Navy will be both different and smaller. I wouldn’t be shocked at a 200 ship fleet in the next 20 years, and that’s with smaller LCS-like vessels.

  11. Scott B. permalink
    May 4, 2010 8:26 pm

    Mike Burleson said : “Gates Channels CSBA’s Big Brains”

    Shouldn’t that be the other way around, i.e. CSBA channels Gates’ (big ?) brain ?

  12. Anonymous permalink
    May 4, 2010 8:05 pm

    Bay Class LSD $150 million.

  13. Scott B. permalink
    May 4, 2010 8:04 pm

    Mike Burleson said : “Note also I’m not calling for ships to patrol the stormy North Atlantic or the vast stretches of the Pacific as these ships did, but the shallow water littorals of the world”

    As the much regretted D.K. Brown pointed out in his “Future British Surface Fleet” (p.56) :

    “It is widely believed, incorrectly, that waters close to the land are sheltered and so are safer, but even in the English Channel high winds and seas are not uncommon.

    The 50-year wave height is 20 meters almost to the Isle of Wight, with a corresponding wind speed of 30 m/s.

    Many inshore disasters have shown the danger of underestimating coastal areas, such as the breaking in half of the French torpedo Boat Branlebas off Dartmouth in World War II.”

  14. Scott B. permalink
    May 4, 2010 8:04 pm

    Mike Burleson said : “Note also I’m not calling for ships to patrol the stormy North Atlantic or the vast stretches of the Pacific as these ships did, but the shallow water littorals of the world”

    Do you remember what happened to the unfortunate HMS Branlebas in these not-so-benign littorals ?

    As the much regretted pointed out in his “Future British Surface Fleet” (p.56) :

    “It is widely believed, incorrectly, that waters close to the land are sheltered and so are safer, but even in the English Channel high winds and seas are not uncommon.

    The 50-year wave height is 20 meters almost to the Isle of Wight, with a corresponding wind speed of 30 m/s.

    Many inshore disasters have shown the danger of underestimating coastal areas, such as the breaking in half of the French torpedo Boat Branlebas off Dartmouth in World War II.”

  15. Scott B. permalink
    May 4, 2010 7:57 pm

    B. Smitty said : “LPD Johan de Witt (Netherlands)-$370 million”

    So ONE LPD with a service life of 30 years costs about the same as TWO JHSVs with a service life of 20 years ?

    And no reformer calling for the immediate cancellation of JHSV after such a revelation ? Troubling…

    B. Smitty said : “Why can’t we afford enough of these ships?”

    Especially if we buy more than one or two. After all, aren’t we planning to procure 40+ JHSVs over the next 30 years ?

  16. B.Smitty permalink
    May 4, 2010 7:40 pm

    2a3Mike said, “Plus the British with much smaller numbers led the landings in the Falklands and at Umm Qasr. There’s your analysis, the lessons of war.

    Are we sizing our military to re-fight the Falklands War or re-take Umm Qasr?

    Mike said, “And note also, those European ships you mentioned (which I admire BTW)are being built in one’s and twos. No sustained building programs needed. The Europeans use these as amphibious motherships and rightly so. You just can’t afford enough of these giant ships and will always need sealift vessels for much of your equipment. Lets do it right from the start instead of waiting for the next war to remind us of this, and save our stretched forces billions.

    So we should base the size of our amphibious Navy on that of Spain? I don’t get the logic there. Who cares how many amphibs an EU nation is building. They aren’t us.

    Why can’t we afford enough of these ships? (from your own page)

    LPD Johan de Witt (Netherlands)-$370 million

    Juan Carlos (Spain)-$490 million

    Mistral (France)-$529.8 million

  17. Mike Burleson permalink*
    May 4, 2010 7:05 pm

    Smitty said “I don’t think your assessment is backed by an operational requirements analysis. Assault what? Where? Against whom?”

    The same might be asked about the marines, which currently have half the number of Gators from the Cold War, and they grudgingly accept this? The current fleet of vessels carry only a fraction of the Fleet Marine Force. The rest would have to go by sealift.

    Plus the British with much smaller numbers led the landings in the Falklands and at Umm Qasr. There’s your analysis, the lessons of war.

    And note also, those European ships you mentioned (which I admire BTW)are being built in one’s and twos. No sustained building programs needed. The Europeans use these as amphibious motherships and rightly so. You just can’t afford enough of these giant ships and will always need sealift vessels for much of your equipment. Lets do it right from the start instead of waiting for the next war to remind us of this, and save our stretched forces billions.

    “The Falklands weren’t a contested landing.”

    Debatable. Once the Argies found out where you were, it certainly became contested. A lot of the equipment and troops had yet to be offloaded. Atlantic Conveyor was sunk with much of the landing force helicopter lift still loaded. Here’s an interesting account:

    Along with the other tanks of The Blues and Royals, the three 105mm batteries of 29 Cdo Regt RA and the single battery of 4 Field Regt RA also landed. During this time the air attacks started, threatening the amphibious ships and their stores, and so every effort was made to unload as much as possible, especially ammo so the merchantmen could leave that night. From “Canberra”, reserve 42 Cdo went ashore at Port San Carlos to support 3 Para if any threat there developed, and one of the two Surgical Support Teams landed at Ajax Bay to set up a Field Dressing Station under the command of Surgeon Cmdr R T Jolly (awarded OBE) RN, and in the same vicinity as the Brigade Maintenance Area. Because of the air raids, Brigadier Thompson was not flown ashore until late afternoon but immediately started visiting his unit commanders.

    http://www.naval-history.net/F43sancarlos.htm

    “Baynunah corvette”-I never advocate a particular class of corvette but here is an excellent example of the type. Note that it is better armed than the LCS in all respects except perhaps seakeeping and aviation facilities. For its particular role of coastal warfare, it is no big loss, and I’d rather have many over-armed corvettes than a few underarmed frigates any day!

  18. B.Smitty permalink
    May 4, 2010 6:05 pm

    How about letting the MSC buy 20 or 30, modestly-equipped, Enforcer derivatives and use as surge amphibious assault ships, NECC transport/support ships, GFS station ships, Influence Squadron motherships, and modular hospital ships?

    At the same time, cut back or cancel the high-priced LPDs, LHAs and LHDs.

  19. B.Smitty permalink
    May 4, 2010 5:28 pm

    Mike said, “We could easily get by with 10 giant amphibians, and lots of sealift and JHSV.

    I don’t think your assessment is backed by an operational requirements analysis. Assault what? Where? Against whom?

    Mike said, “The Brits seized the Falklands with only 2 large ships, but plenty of cheaper RFA and makeshift transports.

    The British seized the Falklands.

    Mike said, “It would be great if we could afford many, but its an expensive luxury for a type of warfare so rare.

    Other nations’ amphibs are a fraction of the cost of ours (e.g. Mistral, Enforcer/Bay/Rotterdam/de Witt/Galicia, Juan Carlos/Canberra). Maybe we need to accept far less gold plating for more numbers.

  20. May 4, 2010 5:25 pm

    The Falklands weren’t a contested landing. Apart from an Argentinian OP on a headland ther enemy was miles away. I think this goes back to something that was said in that recent post about the structure of the USN. The writer said the USMC would never conduct a large amphibious landing agian because of all sorts of threats. But what modern amphibious warfare is all about manoeuvre; landing where the enemy don’t expect you land so that “influence” their centre of gravity. Amphibious ships are about landing where there are no harbours etc. that is why they are needed.

  21. May 4, 2010 5:18 pm

    Mike B. said lots of good stuff as usual.

    Corvettes aren’t much use for general high end warfare. Fisheries protection etc. super things to have.

    And I would be very, very careful about what lessons you draw from the WW2 North Atlantic campaign. That war was fought as much in the ship yards as it was on the high seas; it was about replacing lost tonnage more than depth charges. And you must remember that only 1 (one) in 10 (ten) convoys ever came across a U-boat. I think it would be safe to say the humble Fairey Swordfish did as much as the corvette.

    I would also suggest you go and re-read your Nelson……..

    I am waiting for your corvette specs.

    Heretic said “Sounds like it might be time to play Build Your Own Navy again some time soon …”

    Yes it does. But I have come to realise we are always playing that here.

  22. S. Patel permalink
    May 4, 2010 5:05 pm

    Mike Burleson said: “has a littoral-focused ship-building program ever proved successful?”

    The Sri Lankans say yes, as do the pirates, which are profiting quite well in spite of our immense Blue Water capability that Gates pointed out.

    Oh, and Admiral Farragut would also likely say yes!

    Perhaps I should rephrase: Has a littoral-focused ship-building program ever proved successful, except against insurrection?

  23. D. E. Reddick permalink
    May 4, 2010 4:41 pm

    For a small corvette upon which to model a new USN corvette design, we might start with the U.A.E. Baynunah class. Upgrade the Oto Melara 76 mm Rapide cannon with the newer and more capable Strales version firing guided munitions (steerable AAW rounds). Replace the eight Exocet AShMs with eight Harpoons and switch out the two 27 mm revolver cannon for 30 mm chain-guns or 35 mm Millennium CIWS guns. Stretch / enlarge the hull to accommodate stern boat ramps for RHIBs and boat storage beneath a raised helicopter landing deck. For the helo det, make it capable of supporting a single SH-60 type or a det composed of two or three Fire Scouts. And the stretched hull could provide for added station-keeping with increased fuel bunkerage. The Baynunah carries eight ESSM in VLS cells attached to the flanks of the helo hanger. Increase that number to sixteen or even 24 VLS cells along the extended hull / aft superstructure / helo hanger.

    What you would have is a small warship of perhaps 1,500 to 2,000 tons with:

    Single 76 mm dual purpose cannon;
    Eight Harpoon AShms;
    Two CIWS cannon systems – either 30 mm chain-guns or 35 mm revolver cannon;
    Single 21 round RAM missile launcher;
    Sixteen or 24 ESSM in VLS cells;
    Helo pad and hanger with one manned helo or up to three UAVs;
    Stern ramp and boat bay for two RHIBs.

    What a USN Corvette Might Look Like

    http://www.informationdissemination.net/2009/06/what-usn-corvette-might-look-like.html

    Baynunah Class Multipurpose Missile Corvette, United Arab Emirates

    http://www.naval-technology.com/projects/baynunah/

  24. Mike Burleson permalink*
    May 4, 2010 4:39 pm

    “has a littoral-focused ship-building program ever proved successful?”

    The Sri Lankans say yes, as do the pirates, which are profiting quite well in spite of our immense Blue Water capability that Gates pointed out.

    Oh, and Admiral Farragut would also likely say yes!

  25. Mike Burleson permalink*
    May 4, 2010 4:36 pm

    JKT wrote “what do we do if we need to seize some land near a coast that a well-armed enemy already has?”

    Call on the Royal Navy, which has done an expert job, really more contested landings than we have since WW 2, with a much smaller fleet! It’s just not that big a deal anymore, at least not specialized landing ships. But landing craft can be carried by almost any ship, as can helos.

    We could easily get by with 10 giant amphibians, and lots of sealift and JHSV.

    The Brits seized the Falklands with only 2 large ships, but plenty of cheaper RFA and makeshift transports.

    It would be great if we could afford many, but its an expensive luxury for a type of warfare so rare.

  26. S. Patel permalink
    May 4, 2010 4:35 pm

    Mike Burleson said: Note also I’m not calling for ships to patrol the stormy North Atlantic or the vast stretches of the Pacific as these ships did, but the shallow water littorals of the world, where Blue Water warships have no business, not since they invented naval mines and torpedoes, mostly before Nelson’s time.

    This sounds remarkably like President Jefferson’s argument for coastal gunboats in lieu of a frigate and ship-of-the-line Navy.

    I am honestly curious – has a littorally-focused ship-building program ever proved successful?

  27. jkt permalink
    May 4, 2010 3:42 pm

    So if we get rid of the amphib fleet, as Gates seems to want, what do we do if we need to seize some land near a coast that a well-armed enemy already has?

    I’m actually curious what our plan would be if we abandon the idea of forced amphib landing.

    Some possibilities:

    1) We think there will be a US ally (or a country that can be rented for a time) that shares a land border with the enemy, and that we can fly or ship our forces to that ally and then do a land assault across the border.

    2) We plan to do an aerial attack from a distance (either from land or sea) that effectively destroys any resistance. After the aerial attack destroys the enemies forces we can do an unopposed landing on their shore at our leisure.

    Are there any other options I’m not thinking of? If we aren’t able to land on a spot with an enemy shooting at us we either have to land where the enemy isn’t or totally destroy the enemy before we land, right?

    Obviously taking any island would mean option #2.

    So has air war tech like JDAMs, stealth, and drones advanced to the point that we are confident of our ability to obliterate any enemy defenses that any country could throw at us?

    If the amphib force doesn’t give us any capability then perhaps Gates is right. Is he saying we have other ways of achieving the same thing — or that the amphib ability is an illusion? If Gates cuts the amphib force is he saying we’d have to replace that capability some other way — or is he saying that he doesn’t believe we really have that ability in the first place?

  28. Mike Burleson permalink*
    May 4, 2010 1:22 pm

    “I think they would be just as vulnerable (if not more so) to mines, ASM, etc. as big ships.”

    I agree completely. This is a true statement, since there are no invulnerable warships. Individually all ships are at risk but I’d much rather have 100 for the enemy to contend with than a handful. After the first missile exchange, what would be left if all such warships are vulnerable?

    I also disagree with your thoughts that small corvettes are useless, as we often point out numerous coastal navies building such craft, especially China and Russia who we worry over as potential peer threats. If we built ships to match China and Russia we would be building corvettes as well as giant warships.

    Ships of 1000, 1500, to 2000 tons were also the size of the escorts that defeated the German U-boat arm in WW 2. They must have been of some use since Canada, Britain and the US built several thousands such vessels altogether.

    Note also I’m not calling for ships to patrol the stormy North Atlantic or the vast stretches of the Pacific as these ships did, but the shallow water littorals of the world, where Blue Water warships have no business, not since they invented naval mines and torpedoes, mostly before Nelson’s time.

  29. Heretic permalink
    May 4, 2010 1:10 pm

    Sounds like it might be time to play Build Your Own Navy again some time soon …

  30. May 4, 2010 12:55 pm

    I think we (okay I!) need to see the spec’s of this mythical corvette of yours……

    If we did a very basic split based on tonnage and complement of a Nimitz you could say build a purely abstract 100 hundred ships of 1000 tons displacement with a complement of 32. But I think they would be just as vulnerable (if not more so) to mines, ASM, etc. as big ships. And to be honest not much real use.

    The USN should be looking at systems that keep the fleet at sea not near land. Nelson said never set a ship against a fort. That is why there are aircraft carriers, LCACs, etc.

Trackbacks

  1. Military And Intelligence News Briefs — May 7, 2010 « Read NEWS
  2. Atlantic Sentinel | Gates Stuns Navy Establishment

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